Girl Talk: All Day
Whether sample-happy mash-up act Girl Talk is "good" or "not good" and whether you "like" or "dislike" Girl Talk are completely irrelevant to any discussion regarding Girl Talk. The only things I care about when it comes to Girl Talk is: What does it say about the way we listen to music and, thusly, how will it affect the future of music?
Briefly, if you're unfamiliar with Girl Talk, the band is actually one dude (Gregg Gillis) who mashes up dozens of samples of familiar songs to create one long (60-plus minutes) song-collage. Essentially, Girl Talk is still a not-quite-mainstream entity, but among in-the-know types, it's possibly the buzziest of all buzz bands of 2010. I mean, you're not gonna hear Girl Talk on the radio, but he's probably going to sell out the 1,000-capacity Marquee Theatre at $25. Remember, that's for a guy whose voice or self-generated music doesn't even appear on his own record.
Obviously, the sampling of music has been around for nearly three decades now, and mash-ups were cool for about five minutes a few years ago (I was partial to this one for about half the song's duration). But most mash-ups consisted of two popular songs placed on top of each other. Girl Talk takes the concept to a higher, more artful level, mashing up tons of samples of songs, the more disparate the better (Missy Elliott rapping over The Ramones, for instance). And the key to this gambit is this: Girl Talk isn't using deep cuts or songs from obscure, long-forgotten artists. He's taking samples from, at the very least, widely heard mainstream pop, rock, and hip-hop tracks and, more frequently, songs that simply have become engrained in our collective unconscious.
Therein lies the stroke of brilliance in Gillis' glorified arts and crafts project (and, by the way, it is a remarkable achievement in its construction). We all know most of the 100-plus songs that appear on All Day, so it's kind of fun to listen for them and pick them out before they diffuse into the next one. There's even a handy list available, a sort of cheat sheet that you can use to guide you through this musical treasure island.
Listening to Girl Talk and acknowledging the numerous musical references is akin to coming across your favorite movie while you're channel surfing and then sitting there watching the rest of it, for no other reason than you want to re-experience the way you felt the first time you heard a great line or watched an indelible scene.
I picture Girl Talk fans to be the kind of people who can't themselves from watching the same Seinfeld re-runs a million times or buying DVDs of their favorite movies and watch them over and over, just for the familiarity and the comfort in hearing their favorite lines. I picture Girl Talk fans to be the kind of people who recite quotes from their favorite movies and link everything in their conversation to some movie reference and identify themselves by their taste in pop culture.
Girl Talk's Gregg Gillis knows that describes so many people in indie youth culture. He's masterfully tapped into the way indie youth culture views and consumes popular music. Girl Talk has provided a perfectly acceptable way for hipper-than-thou music fans to get off on the music that these fans would never own up to liking. Third Eye Blind? Miley Cyrus? Lady Gaga? Lisa Lisa? Britney? Yeah, they (and so many other non-cool artists) are in the mix alongside more indie-approved acts like Beck, Radiohead, NIN, and even U2.
Perhaps some will way that such democratizing of our tastes is a good thing, but to me, that just broadens the lowest common denominator of pop culture. And a standardized baseline in music can't be good for anyone. That's why Girl Talk is like junk food -- almost junkier even (though, admittedly, more artful) than something like American Idol or Glee, which are simply new machines to pump out old music. Sort of like Girl Talk. And while junk food is a treat once in a while, it's not good for you in the long term, which is pretty much how I feel about Girl Talk. If you're suffering from aesthetic atrophy, the GT drug certainly won't make you any better -- even if you like the buzz.
Make no mistake: All Day is a real cool time. Despite its protracted length, All Day about as entertaining as a record can be -- especially the first time you hear it. It's a self-contained party mix -- better than putting your iPod on shuffle for a couple of hours. And, for me, an avowed non-fan of hip-hop, it makes hip-hop a lot more interesting.
Still, even after having this record for six weeks now, the novelty wore off real quick. Despite its entertainment value, I'm not compelled to listen to it. I think (and I hope) Girl Talk will go down in history as a curiosity, an artifact of 2010. He's a pioneer, to be sure. Perhaps he's even a genius. But I think history will reveal Gregg Gillis to be more a scientist than an artist, and as a music lover, that's why can't totally get on board with Girl Talk.
Best song: How do you pick one? Well, "20th Century Boy" by T. Rex is one of my favorite songs. So, I'll pick the one that samples it.
Rotation: Low (twice was plenty)
Deja vu: The ultimate drug for an attention-deficit culture.
I'd rather listen to: Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique
Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 41-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here. The "Nothing Not New" Archives:
December 14 -- Tierra del Fuego: Queen of the Rendezvous (A)
December 10 -- Odds 'n' Sods: Helmet, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Ron Wood, and more
December 9 -- Mini Mansions: Mini Mansions (B+)
December 8 -- Sun City Mariachi: Funeral Mariachi (B+)
December 7 -- Daft Punk: Tron Legacy (C)
December 6 -- The Parting Gifts: Strychnine Dandelions (B)
December 3 -- Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (D+)
December 2 -- Sharon Van Etten: Epic (B)
December 1 -- OFF!: First Four EPs (A-)
November 30 -- Robyn: Body Talk (B+)
November 29 -- Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3: Northern Aggression (A-)
November 16 -- Stereolab: Not Music (B-)
November 15 -- The Fresh & Onlys: Play It Strange (C+)